New Music

UNI/Universal Music

If Jean Paul Sartre rose from the grave and started a label, his first act would be Zurdok, the trippy Monterrey, Mexico, quintet whose Maquillaje (Makeup) marks another foray into the terrors of mere existence. Continuing lyrically and musically where they left off with their last album, the conceptual Hombre Sintetizador (Synthesizer Man), Zurdok have dropped the concept-album gimmick but kept their epic musical style (something like Jim Morrison scoring 2001) and life-is-meaningless wordplay. The album has such aural richness—shades of the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and Radiohead—that you don't know whether the band would be better-suited for a rave, an orchestra hall or a Beatles tribute concert. Their lyrics, meanwhile, feel more appropriate for graduate philosophy than radio play. Lead singer/songwriter Chetes channels the spirit of John Lennon circa Revolver to sing on “As Es” (That's How It Is) lines like “Do you believe that life is predestined/Or just random occurrences?” Maquillaje is nothing like anything you've heard in Spanish or English—depressing yet enjoyable—but maybe French. The lazy-eyed existentialist would have been proud. (Gustavo Arellano)

The Shins
Oh, Inverted World

If forced to choose between your own shins and this stunning debut, grab yourself a wheelchair and some knee-length shorts. After a few fine singles on Omnibus, the Shins have managed to kick out a gorgeous full-length (if 33 minutes and change could be called “full length”) album, one that should make several of those obnoxious Best Of lists come Thanksgiving. They manage to combine Pulp's melodic lilt, Belle and Sebastian's under-the-comforter coziness, Stephin Merritt's razor tongue, and Death Cab for Cutie's emo vibe without resembling any of them. Like a Rorschach drawing, you can find pretty much anything on the disc that you look for: new wave sonics, '60s-style Brit pop hooks, ringing guitars, hallucinogenic keyboards, and bewildering song titles (“Know Your Onion!” and “Caring Is Creepy”). The quiet highlight is the acoustic “New Slang,” one of many lovelorn lullabies gone wrong. Like many tracks, it turns a new—and bizarre—phrase on old frustrations (“God speed all the bakers at dawn/May they all cut their thumbs”). The Shins aren't strangers to the seamier side of human nature—revenge, diminished expectations, abusive relationships—and songwriter James Mercer, master of the sarcastic understatement, could go toe to toe with Tori Amos any day. But a hard-won optimism peeps through elsewhere (“When they're parking their cars on your chest/You've still got a view of the summer sky”). And with such a promising offering, the Shins should be nothing but optimistic. (Kristin Fiore)

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